Uber may want to be the next Amazon, but Amazon doesn’t have the potential for causing deaths the way vehicles for hire can.
In my opinion — and it’s a view shared by transportation regulators across the country — Uber, Lyft and other “ride sharing” companies are violating the laws and regulations that govern for-hire transportation everywhere they operate. In fact, ignoring the law is crucial to their success. They are competing unfairly with traditional taxi businesses that abide by the law, while endangering the jobs of thousands of small-business owners.
A recent statement from the San Francisco District Attorney’s office accused drivers who sell rides in their personal vehicles by using so-called ride-share apps of committing rampant insurance fraud. Uber and Lyft are also named defendants in federal class-action lawsuits that claim illegal withholding of gratuities and misclassification of labor.
You, dear reader, should find it sickening that the hundreds of millions of dollars raised by these companies are being used to undermine small businesses. The profits from these investments are earned on the backs of an industry made up largely of immigrant drivers.
Uber and the like are simply not what they claim to be. They are not ride sharing, and they are de facto (unlicensed/uninsured) taxis. Calling them ride-sharing companies is simply misleading, because they don’t “share” rides, but charge for them exactly as most taxis do.
There is no regulatory gray area here. The companies’ claim that not picking up street hails means they’re not taxis is disingenuous, considering that most customers use smartphone apps to summon Uber and other services from the curb, in lieu of a legal taxi.
Innovation and ignoring the law aren’t the same thing. Competing by evading long-established regulations is unfair to those who do abide by the law. All on-demand, for-hire transportation should be on the same playing field.
Besides, who is really the bad guy in the end? The law-abiding, small-business man trying to feed a family or the big, venture-capital-backed corporation that flouts laws left and right for profit? You decide.
Trevor Johnson is a licensed taxi driver and technical director of the San Francisco Cab Drivers Association.